Roger Caillois’s mineral collection and writings on stone comprise a rich library of ‘rock records,’ a term used here to mean not only the geologic rock record, but also records of encounters with stone broadly understood. Caillois bequeathed his renowned collection to the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle in Paris. The collection, featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale, can be seen at the galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie. In his three books on stones, Caillois presents fascinating speculative ruminations on geologic processes and specimens, in the service of a transdisciplinary philosophical project. Caillois espoused a “mystical materialism” that grounded his pursuit of a “diagonal science,” a hermetic reading of the cosmos as composed of hieroglyphic signs, in which “stone… speaks… the most convincing language in the universe.”
Caillois figures prominently in Rock Records, a special issue of the French theory and literature journal SubStance that includes essays in ecophilosophy and speculative geomedia, and a collection of viewing stones presented by leading connoisseurs. The issue features an excerpt from Caillois’s Pierres réfléchies (1975)–the last, and least cited, of his books on stones–published for the first time in English. The print essay is complemented by an online exhibit that presents photos of particular specimens of the mineral collection accompanied by Caillois’s speculations about them from The Writing of Stones (1969).
In Rock Records, Caillois’s stone writings are taken up by ecotheorist Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, who perceptively points out that while Caillois discovers in stones a form of cosmic art–thereby liberating art from an anthropomorphic mooring–he simultaneously depicts rock as an inert medium, a “durable recording device” of universal energies and aesthetics. Paul Prudence, a theorist and practitioner of procedural art, begins by pointing out that Caillois, as a pareidoliac interpreting patterns in stone, figures his speculations in terms of the “internalized database of stored images” available to him at the time. He then offers a “post-digital” treatment of Caillois’s writings, seeing them in terms of how they anticipate and/or are changed by viewing them in relation to algorithmic images (fractals, etc), and concludes that an aesthetics of simulation ultimately opens onto a “cybernetics of geology.” Paul A. Harris finds in Caillois’s characterization of stone contemplation as “mental inebriation” and “spiritual exercise” an analogue for his “stoned thinking” grounded in meditative rock gardening practices.